The turbulence of the past twelve months seems to have eliminated fashion trends, with moods and desires barely traceable on a global level. However, one phenomenon appears to still dominate in 2021: vintage clothing or “archive fashion”, as the Cognoscenti call it. (Funny that “vintage” was developed as an alternative of the snob to “used” and “economical”.) The archiving that is above the vintage is characterized by the place of the piece in fashion history – it appeared on the catwalk and started a trend or was very influential. And most importantly, it was designed by a historically significant designer.
The pandemic and a new environmental awareness among young people have triggered the boom in archive fashion. But there’s also a sensitivity among Gen Z and Millennials that archival fashion is a way of signaling taste and conscientiousness. (If HF Twitter has anything to offer, Gen Z’er are particularly obsessed with ’90s and’ 00s fashion.) It demonstrates the ability to look beyond the hyper-hyped marketing flash of fashion and prioritize hunting instead. Finding an Isseey Miyake killer flight jacket is more a demonstration of indulgence than the mere ability to stand in a row.
A new report from luxury resale platform The RealReal confirms the growing interest in archival clothing, showing that sellers in every category of the site – from watches to handbags to ready-to-wear – made more than last year from vintage goods. what the website defines as accessories and clothing that are more than ten years old. In fact, vintage sales rose 67% from the first to the second half of the year. Brands like Jean-Paul Gaultier, Issey Miyake, and Versace saw tremendous spikes in items originally published in the 1990s and 2000s.
This is exciting news for The Real Real, the planet, and your weirdly cool nephew. It’s less exciting for luxury fashion brands. As these consumers grow into the true luxury shopping age group, will they have a taste for the super expensive but readily available goods that are the foundation of the market?
Some brands have addressed the archival problem directly by partnering with RealReal. Last October, Gucci announced a partnership with the website that would allow it to sell its own used or archived goods (such as those used in campaign shoots) and promised to provide a tree for every Gucci good sold on the platform to plant. (By the way, in the report, the website notes that the resale value for vintage Gucci is up 12%). Burberry has a similar agreement: Starting October 2019, RealReal customers who ship a Burberry item on the website will receive a free in-person shopping experience at a Burberry store, including high tea. Around the same time, Ralph Lauren started a collaboration with Depop, the Gen Z favorite for vintage fashion, with used Lauren merchandise curated by Depop users on the website and in pop-up rooms of select stores. This agreement allowed Ralph Lauren to cut profits. (None of Burberry, Gucci, and Stella McCartney, another partner of the RealReal brand, make money from their partnerships.)
This dynamic isn’t all that different from the art market, where artists are excluded from future sales of their pieces at auctions or between dealers. But profits aren’t necessarily the point – for many designers, getting interested in the archives is simply part of the strategy. Italian maestro Brunello Cucinelli wore in a Zoom yesterday to share his fall 2021 collection, a jacket from spring 2017 that he had redesigned for this collection, made from a new fabric with three buttons instead of two and a higher lapel. For Louis Vuitton’s Spring 2021 collection, Virgil Abloh offered a lavish take on upcycling that included reused fabrics as well as a realignment of looks and pieces from previous collections – something that fosters a collector’s eye rather than a pinball’s sensibility.